My family is important to me; I love my wife and three children dearly. I believe we are better together than apart. This should be the attitude of every father, right? Absolutely! Dads should cherish and enjoy their families. They should long to be with them and feel pain when apart. They also should fight to keep families together through thick and thin.
This conviction should be a shared conviction with all humanity. As humans, we should cherish the idea of family. Otherwise, how would we perpetuate and propagate our race?
Yet, occasionally, I get this unsettled feeling in my soul, as I observe the culture around me, that these are not shared feelings.
The Threat to Families: A Case Study
Last winter, in the heart of the polar vortex, my family felt cabin fever. We didn’t wish to venture far from home, but we knew we wanted to get out of the house. Kendall and I made an executive decision to go to Chipotle, which was practically across the street from our apartment.
At the time, we had only lived in Chicagoland for a few months, so we were still getting used to the culture. Likewise, we’re not Chipotle people. Every time I think of Chipotle, I think about how they were once owned by McDonalds. It’s hard for me to get past that. Besides, I’m from Texas, so I know what a Freebird is, and if I must, I’ll settle for a Qdoba. So, Chipotle falls precariously low on the burrito chain as it is for me.
My wife bundled the kids up, while I brushed the most recent snowfall off the van, and we drove across the street in the negative ten temperature. Upon entering Chipotle the first thing Kendall and I noticed was that we were the only family in the place. There were lots of people there but no children. The five of us shuffled into line. As usual the kids were a little restless and also excited about being out of the home.
I remember glancing around and seeing stares. They weren’t really the annoyed you need to do something with your children stares. They were the frightful I don’t want to be in that situation stares — the kind that remind you that your family is walking birth control for others.
We finally made it up to the burrito bar and started to place our order with the young lady behind the counter. She was your typical Chipotle burrito bar associate, tatted up and pierced like the real deal, original Freebird associate would be; knock offs bother me as you can tell. She was polite and kind to us, but found herself in a bind.
I asked about the children’s menu. There wasn’t one posted in their signage to order from. She let me know that they didn’t have a children’s menu, which just sent me reeling. Kendall and I plotted to figure out how to craft a makeshift kids meal, which ended up just being an adult chicken quesadilla meal split between the three little ones and a couple extra milks.
In itself, I guess not having a kids menu does not make you a non-children friendly business, but it sure doesn’t invite families into your establishment. I paid the cashier and we collected ourselves to find out seat. That’s when I discovered there were no high chairs. So we made due with Adalie sitting in mommy’s lap. It worked well until that point where she grabbed Kendall’s drink in just the wrong way and it tipped, spilling Coke all over the table and floor. Yep, that earned more sympathetic, yet relieved at not having children stares from the non-family patrons.
After dinner Kendall took Adalie to the restroom to change her diaper. She returned rather shortly to tell me there was no changing station. We then scurried home and retreated back into our safe world of family at the apartment.
My Reading of the Cultural Scripts
That story being shared, I wish to unpack what Kendall and I thought walking away from the experience.
First, we love living in the Midwest, and we’ve found Midwesterners to be super friendly. We lived in Tulsa for four years, which is precisely on the border between the South and Midwest, so we really feel like we’re used to the Midwestern mindset: quicker pace, direct, and extremely honest.
So this critique isn’t a critique considering geographical demographics and behavior; it’s a wider cultural critique of everyone’s general feelings towards family these days across every spectrum in American culture. Quite honestly, as a family, we’ve felt this sensation anywhere we’ve been in the last 10 years, accepting maybe the safe cloister of Disney World, where family is the ultimate altar.
As you picked up from my telling of the narrative, it’s not so much that people are antagonistic or annoyed. American culture is not quite anti-family yet, though if I were to put my chips on it, I might be a big winner in two decades that culture will be anti-family. Right now, culture seems merely hesitant towards family.
People are just not excited about jumping into family life. They either like their singleness, dinkness (dual income no kids), or they have that perpetual feeling of unreadiness. It’s likely that they come from broken homes and do not wish to break another.
Regardless, Americans are running away from family life.
Is this just mere speculation? Am I out to lunch as a biased husband and father? Am I just paranoid? What do the statistics actually tell us?
What Statistics Say
Businesses, like Chipotle, are reading the national demographics and are hedging their bets on the fact that they don’t need to tailor to families. There is plenty of family friendly places; Chick-fil-a is my favorite. So, not every business need be family friendly, and I get that; I don’t expect sushi shops to be family friendly. That’s just not their market. But who doesn’t love a good burrito, right?
Anyway, what are these businesses seeing in the national demographics?
In the most recent decennial census brief (2010) on households and families, the brief revealed that the 116.7 million households in America have 2.58 people in them. Of households that are defined as families, the number of people is 3.14. It’s no secret that these numbers have been declining for decades, since the baby boom.
Furthermore, of total number of American households, 7.7 million of them are unmarried partner households, which has grown 41% from 2000, which is four times the growth rate of households in general (10%). This is a staggering statistic. People aren’t getting married, but they are cohabitating.
In addition, for the first time in the history of census data, husband-wife households stooped below 50% of all households. Only, 48% in 2010 are husband-wife households, down from 52% in 2000, and 55% in 1990.
Essentially, family is on a slippery slope of decline; we are seeing the vanishing of families in America.
Not Always a Family Man
Now, I admit I haven’t always been a family man. I liked the idea of getting married in college, but I wasn’t super excited about having children. In fact, before Chloe, my eldest, was born, I had never changed a diaper, fed a bottle to a baby, or pushed a stroller. One time, when Kendall and I were dating, we helped in the nursery at church together. I ate the kiddos animal crackers while Kendall did all the real work.
What changed in me? It actually wasn’t some sort of intuitive longing within my soul to have children. It started with me being confronted with Scripture, repenting, and becoming obedient to the first chapters of Genesis.
In our young married’s group, we read Doug Wilson’s Reforming Marriage. In that reading, I was reminded of my primary functions from the Edenic Covenant; God created man to fill the earth and subdue it.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that move on the earth. (Gen. 1:28)
That realization was the tipping point for me. I remember coming home that night and chatting with Kendall. I shared with her the realization that I did want to have children. She, of course, was surprised that I had felt otherwise. It’s not like I ever told her that I was content to just be the husband of Kendall.
God used his Word to change my affections that day. I’m really glad. I can’t imagine my world without Chloe, Asher, and Adalie. I’m thankful that I developed a discontent of only being a husband; my wife is glad too.
From the time Kendall and I married I understood that the two of us were a new family. What I had to embrace was that God wanted to add to that family over the years. Though it seemed to happen overnight through the power of God’s Word, really it has been a slow and steady process of affections being warmed, faculties being trained, and responsibility being owned.
My family braved the snowpocalypse for a dinner that sent my wife and I reeling. We realized that, though the snowpocalypse would end, we as a family were bound to face another: the familypocalypse.
If you’re young, married, and planning to have children, or have a few like we do, just realize that in the coming decades you will feel more and more out of place, lest drastic cultural changes are underway.
Likewise, if you are single or married and hesitant about children, please study Genesis 1, particularly verse twenty-eight. The endeavor might very well alter your perspective.
My hope is that the feeling we all feel is only out of place, rather than threatened.